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Menen (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2021-06-19 by ivan sache
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Municipal flag of Menen - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 31 July 2005

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Presentation of Menen

The municipality of Menen (in French, Ménin; 32,439 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 3,306 ha; municipal website) is located on the river Leie (in French, Lys), which forms the border with French until Wervik, facing the French tow, of Halluin (in Dutch, Halewijn), 11 km south-west of Kortrijk and 15 km north of Lille (France; in Dutch, Rijsel). The municipality was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Menen (19,472 inh.), Lauwe (8,306 inh.) and Rekkem (4,544 inh.).

The origin of the name of Menen is obscure and several hypotheses have been proposed. Sanderus (1732) claims that Menen came from mennen, "to conduct" (over the Leie). Lansens (1841) believes that Menen came from eënte, "pastures in common use". Meynne (1860) relates Menen to menhem, a building or a stable where horses rested and were fed before resuming their trip along the Leie. Kanon Desmet (1864) thinks that Menen was originally Menheim, a German colony set up on the Leie, and related etymologically Menheim to Mannheim. Gysseling claims that Menin was the name of a prehistoric colony derived from Maininion. Finally, De Vries claims that Menen came from maininium, meaning "a common possession".

A parish church is mentioned in Menen in 1087, which indicates that a settlement already existed a that time. The settlement probably developed along a straight path, today Bruges Street and Lille Street, which linked the two important market places of Torhout (later Bruges) and Lille, and crossed the Leie, known in the region as the Golden River.
The noble family of Menen emerged in the 11th-12th centuries. The four sons of the lord of Menen were once lords of Saint-Omer, Bergues, Veurne and Diksmuide. Another seven brothers were among the nobles of the town of Menen. The house of Menen was a powerful clan in the County of Flanders.
In the 14th century, the family of Menen fell into decline. In contrast, the town of Menen developed thanks to the cloth industry. Count of Flanders Lodewijk van Male granted municipal rights to Menen in 1351. The town was allowed to manufacture cloth and to have a weekly market. The wealth of Menen increased for the next two centuries because of the international reputation of cloth produced there. In the 16th century, this activity declined and was replaced by brewing industry. Brewers were granted privileges and there were 104 master brewers in Menen in 1520.
In 1548, a huge blaze destroyed three-quarters of the town. Black plague reached Menen, followed by the religious troubles. Several supporters of the new (Protestant) ideas left the town; other were arrested, sentenced and executed.
The building of the belfry of Menen started in 1574 and was stopped two years later because of the religious troubles. The building site resumed in 1610 under the guidance of master mason Jan Persyn, from Kortrijk. The belfry was further increased and revamped in 1711, 1828 and 1932. In 1999, the belfrys of several Belgian town were registered on the list of World Heritage by UNESCO. The belfrys of the French Flemish towns were added to the list in 2005.

A first city wall was built in 1578 by the Spaniards. Menen was incorporated to France in 1667 following the Devolution War, which was confirmed by the Treaties of Aachen (1668) and Nijmegen (1678). In 1679, Louis XIV asked Vauban to increase the fortifications of the town. The fortifications were completed in 1685, surrounding a 64-ha area. For the next two centuries, Menen was a strategic gateway. The fortifications were destroyed several times in the 18th century, by King Louis XV included.
In the 18th century, the border between France and the Austrian Netherlands was delimited, following an agreement between King Louis XVI end Empress Maria-Theresa. The boundary stones had on the French side the Bourbon's three fleurs-de-lis and on the Austrian side the Habsburg's double-headed eagle.
In 1815, the Congress of Vienna ordered the fortification of the southern Netherlands to dissuade French reconquest attempts. Menen was part of a fortification line including Ieper, Oudenaarde, Tournai, Mons, Charleroi, Philippeville, Mariembourg, Namur, Huy and Liège. The borders between France and the Netherlands were set up once again and described in great detail by the Agreement of Kortrijk in 1820.
The fortifications of Menen were eventually suppressed in 1852 but the town has kept several remains of them, which is quite unusual in Flanders.

In the late A9th century, the north of France became progressively a main cloth industry center, whereas linen industry declined in Flanders. Cloth industry attracted several Flemish workers to the French border towns. The population of Menen increased by 133% in one century. In 1886, the Belgians represented 77% of the population in Halluin and there were more Belgians than French in Roubaix and Roncq. At the end of the 19th century, most Belgians moved back because of the cost of life in France and worked according to a daily or weekly commuting schedule (that is they lived in Belgium and went to France every day or for a whole week). The population of Menen increased by 58% from 1880 (11,749) to 1900 (18,611). The "commuting system disappeared when the cloth industry in the north of France declined at the end of the 1960s.

During the First World War, Menen was located only a few kilometers behind the frontline. In 1917, the inhabitants had to evacuate the town, which was severely damaged during the fighting.
On 20 May 1940, several inhabitants of Flanders moved to Menen in order to flee to the south of France. The town was occupied by the Germans until 7 September 1944.


Ivan Sache, 31 July 2005

Flag of Menen

The flag of Menen is vertically divided red-white with three yellow stars placed 2 and 1 in canton.
The flag, adopted on 25 April 1980 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Royal Decree issued on 1 October 1980 and published on 12 December 1980 in the Belgian official gazette.
[Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02a]]

The red and blue colors are taken from the municipal coat of arms of Menen, whereas the three stars recall the three components of the municipality. The coat of arms of Lauwe showed a black lion with a red tongue and claws, a blue crescent placed horizontally between the forepaws and two red stars placed between the rear paws and near the tail. The meaning of these arms is unknown.
The coat of arms of Menen is "Argent three chevrons gules". It was adopted simultaneously with the flag. The shield is topped with a five-tower golden mural crown.
[Municipal website]

The arms of Menen before the municipal merging were identical to the arms of the current municipality. They were granted on 30 May 1953 and superseded arms granted in 1824 and confirmed on 7 April 1838, which had black chevrons. The black color was an unfortunate error in the 1824 grant, since the lords of Menen already used the arms with the red chevrons in the 13th century. These arms, which are featured in the Armorial Général (image), have been consistently used on municipal seals since the 16th century.
[Wapenboek van de Provinciën en Gemeenten van België [svm55a]]

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat, Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 1 August 2020